As automakers race to shift electric vehicles (EVs) to a higher gear, Germany’s Electric Brands is forging its own path with a funky-looking, zero-emissions vehicle capable of transforming into a pickup, bus, delivery van or even luxury camper.
CEO Martin Henne launched the project—and the pitch—with a vision “to develop the most sustainable motorized product for individual transportation.” To turn that vision into reality, his team had to throw out traditional ways of thinking about design and manufacturing. The company has even called it “not a car, but innovation in motion.”
Produced with more than 95 percent recyclable materials, Xbus consumes about one-third of what a conventional EV typically requires. And there’s also a solar roof that can extend the Xbus driving range by up to 200 kilometers (124 miles), giving it a max range of 600 kilometers (373 miles). Another creative twist of convenience: The team created an expandable battery system that lets users swap in backups if they’re not close to a charging station.
But the Xbus team also seems to be out to prove that sustainability doesn’t have to be a snooze—developing the EV with nine Lego-like configuration options. Based on feedback from potential customers, designer Yaroslav Yakovlev focused on delivering a lightweight vehicle that targeted the most common needs of users. For example, the delivery-oriented Box module has 6 cubic meters (212 cubic feet) of storage but is small enough to fit in most parking spots.
“We have thought our concept from a customer perspective,” Henne says. “What is the customer mobility need for the future?”
Throughout the project, Henne’s team turned risk into opportunity. When pandemic-driven supply chain shortages emerged, for example, project leaders pivoted to sourcing materials and components from local suppliers, including Germany’s UniverCell for battery cells and Ideenion Automobil for the development and construction of prototype variants. Henne even acquired some companies to ensure the project had long-term access to must-have components.
“We started with sustainability already in the supply chain,” Henne says. “We count on the local supply chain to reduce the carbon footprint in transportation.”
Henne also mitigated distribution risks by proactively collaborating with a network of more than 800 dealers and is now on pace to deliver the first models in 2023.
Even before that, the project is already delivering positive social impact. Electric Brands is expected to create up to 1,000 local jobs when the first phase of manufacturing begins in Itzehoe, Germany later this year. With 9,000 pre-orders from individuals and about 10,000 from dealers, Henne has a head start on achieving his ultimate goal: drastically cutting the carbon footprint of mobility.
“We must responsibly and carefully use the resources on our planet,” Henne says. “And leave behind a nature in perfect condition as a heritage for our next generation.”